When there are endless stretches of hours to be filled in an empty life, diversions become critical to sanity. Sketching only fills so many, and with huge gaps in Steve's working knowledge, he started slowly, decade-by-decade, sampling literature, music, movies, and art. Somewhere around the mid-sixties, movies and general media started leaving him cold left him cold, but the music…oh how the music had taken hold.
He didn't love everything, and it wasn't even that there were a specific set of genres that appealed to him. Very simply, he liked what he liked, so much so that one of the long cabinets in the living area of his apartment is dedicated to vinyl records. Clint tried to give him a hard time once, insisting that it's time to get with the digital age, but Tony had come to his defense.
"Some things," he'd said, dropping a hand on Clint's shoulder, "Some things are just better in original form."
Lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, Steve recalls one of those songs now. It's from the late seventies, a punchy rock song with deep lyrics and a plaintive wail. Every day, just the same, old rules for the same old game...the bed's too big without you….
He'd woken up some time after eleven. It had only taken him a moment to reach out for Darcy, to recall the previous day, and then to begin planning for what came next.
The alarm bells didn't sound at the empty space. It was late, and not everyone needs sleep the way he does. Retrieving a discarded pair of athletic shorts from the floor, Steve runs a hand through his hair, knowing by touch that it is a mess at the crown, shooting off in every direction. When he was little, his mom used to lick her fingers, using the moisture to try forcing the errant strands down. It probably doesn't make a lot of difference how his hair looks when he's bare chested, wandering around his apartment without shoes or even brushing his teeth.
He calls out for her when he can't find her in the kitchen. The bathroom door stands open, and the living room is empty.
Steve roams the apartment, pulling open doors, checking closets, even looking behind the heavy olive draperies that cover the windows. She's not there.
When women leave without saying goodbye, it's called coyote syndrome. Clint had explained to him one night. They'd been stuck between ops, waiting for a call that never seemed to come. You know, like how coyotes chew their arm off to get out of a trap.
Is that what this is? Had Darcy second-guessed everything and taken off? Is he a mistake, a regret that she needed to run from?
Steve scans the living area, taking in rumpled pillows, discarded books, trying to recall everything. His eyes land on the bright red duffle bag by the door. The top is unzipped, and contents spill out onto the hardwood: white t-shirts and frilly underwear, one purple and yellow striped sock, and the leg of a pair of black cotton pants. It's not ransacked as much as it is jumbled, as if the owner dug through, looking for things in a hurry.
In a hurry, Steve reassures himself, but coming back. She wouldn't have left her bag if she weren't coming back.
He holds on to that like a talisman, warding off the fear that hovers in the corners, threatening the peace that had settled in over the last few days.
She will come back.
With nothing to do, and Darcy's phone going straight to voicemail, Steve does the only thing he knows how to do.
A car picks him up and ferries him into the city, but instead of Stark, he heads to Midtown. The woman at the front desk doesn't ask for his badge, and a retinal scan in the elevator verifies "Captain Steve Rogers" before launching him up into the building, where men and women rush back and forth with the clipped efficiency of spies masquerading as clerical staff.
"Sitwell," he calls out as he strides down the hall, scattering people like cockroaches. From behind a low gray industrial border, a bald man pops to his feet, eyes red rimmed from fatigue. "Any updates on the men taken into custody the other day?"
He doesn't need to clarify what men or where. Sitwell is Steve's handler, and is briefed on all critical activities. If he needs to ask, he shouldn't know.
"No." Sitwell removes his glasses, digging his thumb and in index finger into his closed eyes. "We did manage to uncover some data on one of the destroyed server boxes. It's encrypted, but one of our guys is familiar with the pattern, and thinks he can break it."
"Anything else worth noting?"
Sitwell shakes his head. "Nothing but hunches, which aren't worth anything."
"The patterns don't make sense. Too much effort trying to make this generic, vanilla, but then oddball little references pop up. Images, words, even proper names that aren't possible."
Sitwell pops on his glasses, and quickly drops back down in his chair and out of sight. Director Fury appears in his office door, head to toe black, with a gun strapped to his leg. It's oddly incongruous with the carefully cultivated corporate façade.
"I'd like to see you in my office, please."
"Keep me posted," Steve says to Sitwell. He taps gently on the cubicle barrier before walking away. The man is no Coulson, but he's good, and more importantly, he's trustworthy. If there's something to be found, Sitwell is the one to do it, and he'll make sure that Steve is made aware immediately.
"Sit," Fury commands as Steve enters his office. Like the helicarrier, this office is all glass and technology, screens filled with flashing graphics and words. Here and there, a photo will pop up, then disappear before it can fully register, tiny bits of information moving faster than the human brain can process. He doesn't speak until Steve is settled in a chair, hands folded placidly in his lap.
"Have you heard from Miss Lewis today?"
"Miss Lewis," Fury leans forward, his arms folded in front of him on the clear glass surface. "Have you spoken with her since she left your apartment?"
"How do you know she left my apartment?" Steve demands, surprised by the bolt of hot anger that rips through him. "Am I under observation now, too? Or are we all?"
"Miss Lewis left your apartment at seven fifteen this morning," Fury says, sidestepping Steve's interrogation. "She took a cab to Stark Tower and was inside for roughly an hour. After that, she headed northwest into the park."
"We had people following her. "
"Then you would know whether or not she contacted me, or anyone else for that matter."
Fury tips his head to the side, his gaze narrowing, as if by staring long enough he can tell whether Steve is holding back.
"What was Miss Lewis doing at the Tower?"
"Why don't you ask her?"
"I'm asking you."
"I'm not her handler."
Pushing back from his desk, Fury stands and turns to face the window.
"Have you ever hunted?"
"Bird hunting, specifically. Have you ever?"
"I don't see what-"
Fury stares at the window, hands clasped behind has back. A long scar runs the length of his left thumb, the jagged furrow of a knife cut that wasn't stitched together properly.
"Sometimes, in order to flush ducks out, you have to send in dogs. Once the ducks are airborne, you have a clear shot, but it takes the dogs to flush them out."
A city kid wouldn't know the first thing about hunting, but Steve's more than just a city kid. He's spent ages in combat, understanding military tactics, mapping out plans based on subterfuge and counter attacks. The hunting analogy isn't any different.
"What does that have to do with Miss Lewis?"
Fury turns to Steve, his face an inscrutable mask.
"I took a calculated risk," he says, "and flushed out the ducks. Two of them, to be specific. "
He glances down at the desktop, breaking eye contact. It's the first flicker in his calmly composed façade.
"What the hell did you do?"
"We had them outside of her apartment," Fury says, not looking up. "We saw them enter, and had the situation under control. Not too long after that, Miss Lewis returned home."
Adrenaline overrides logic, propelling Steve forward across the desk. Fury's fast, but he's faster, bunching the thick black cotton of the man's sweater in his fist and dragging him forward. There's a loud crash as the desk chair slams into a window and topples, tangling in electrical cords on the way down. A phone hangs precipitously off the corner of the desk, ready to fall with the slightest nudge.
"Where is she?" Steve demands. He's breathing heavily, but not winded. This is panic, plain and simple.
"We don't know." Fury's struggles for air, the thick cotton cutting into his neck and cutting into his windpipe. "There was no one in the apartment, and no observed entry or exit."
A muscle begins to jump at the corner of Fury's eye, a tick driven either by nerves or by the lack of oxygen. Steve shoves him backward, and the Director stumbles, catching himself on the edge of the desk. It sends the phone flying, the receiver slamming into the metal desk leg and then recoiling into the phone body with a loud thwack.
"Where is she?" Steve demands again. "Find her."
Fury refuses to look at him. He's smoothing out the front of his shirt, trying to force the cotton back into shape. It's distorted, an inverted V puckering up from just below the collar.
"We can't," Fury says. "We don't have a way to track her."
"What about her phone? The chip in her badge?"
"They say she's at your place." Fury glances up, watching as the information sinks in. "There is literally no way for us to track her."
Steve sinks his teeth into his upper lip, sucking hard on the tender skin. The pain centers him, directs the focus to where it should be.
"You can't find her," he says. "But I might be able to."
He spins and strides out of the room, shoving one hand deep into his pants pocket. His phone is there, just in reach, but he can't make the calls until he's out of this building.
"How?" Fury calls after him.
"I want all the information you have, transferred to my phone immediately," Steve says, not slowing down. "I'll find her, and I'll deal with this. And then you and I are going to have a conversation about proper utilization of resources and tactics."
He doesn't wait for the elevator, instead choosing to run down the eighteen flights of steps to the lobby. The exertion doesn't tax him, but it does make him feel just a little bit better.
At Stark Tower, Steve passes his office, turning left into a vacant office reserved for visiting executives. He's texted Rhodey, instructing him to come here, and to bring everything he has on Banner's research.
As frustrating as Fury is, it doesn't take him long to compile and transmit what little information is available. A few grainy photos of two men, one younger with dark hair, face obscured behind dark glasses, and a man with steel gray hair in a well cut suit. The latter matches the description of the man at Darcy's interrogation, right down to the little patch of hair below his bottom lip.
There's no id on the younger man, although there's something in his stance that gives Steve pause. The older man is a different story. SHIELD has identified him as Aleksander Lukin, head of Kronas, parent company of Roxxon Oil. He's former KGB, with a long history of raiding a disintegrating Soviet Union for technology that can be sold to the highest bidder for profit. There's some sketchy detail about Lukin's interest in the Tesseract, and even more disturbing, hints of history with Johann Schmidt. Suddenly, the nameless abductor has a face, and it's not one that Steve ever thought he'd see again.
It's all slowly clicking into place. Lukin, the Red Skull, the Tesseract, and the Super Soldier Serum. Sitting in the middle of it all is Bruce Banner and his research, and there is one sure way to gain access to both the man and his mind.
"Oh Darcy," Steve mumbles, dropping his head into his hands. "What did you get yourself into?"
Blending movie and comic verse here…geeks and fanboys and girls unite